A classic from my childhood gets a bold new life in this veggie-filled Sausage and Pepper Pasta Bake recipe.
As I pulled my car to the curb on a recent Friday evening, I felt a familiar sinking in my stomach. I was on a street I’d never parked on, going to a building I’d never been to and attending an event I was largely unfamiliar with. Inside my head, a voice whispered, “just leave.”
Once upon a time not that long ago, I let that voice carry too much weight. My internal fight-or-flight reaction would have been enough for me to listen, and skip the event. Although I’ve always been bold and brave, I let myself choose whatever was easiest, avoiding discomfort and skipping out on anything unfamiliar. Listening to that voice a little became a vicious cycle in which the unknown — like finding an entrance and attending something new — became this big thing to be avoided at all costs.
Until one day I didn’t let it anymore.
After letting ridiculous worries about the unknown dictate where I’d go, what I’d do and how I lived, something shifted inside me. It’s easy to label that change as “wanting more,” but it was more than that. It was a quiet roar from deep inside that grew to a fever pitch with one clear message: I wanted me back. I wanted to live big, to experience much, to see everything. I wanted to be fearless again, and to say yes to life.
So I did.
There’s so much to be gained from stepping beyond the confines of your comfort zone. When we stop clinging to the familiar, there’s room to grow, excitement to be found and happiness to be embraced. Sometimes we’ll also discover things we don’t like, but that’s as important as finding things we do.
In my efforts to avoid discomfort, I had stripped from life the vestiges of happiness and the blessings of new experiences. I’d cut myself off at the knees, and stunted my mental growth while silencing the best parts of me. And in my writing, I felt that overwhelming sameness dull the tone and mute the impact of my words. When the realization of what I was doing caught up to me, there was no choice but to change.
Reclaiming myself was as much about living a happier life as it was about giving my kids the kind of life that teaches them to appreciate the unexpected and cherish new experiences. It was showing them — and myself — that there’s a whole world of living beyond the confines of the things we already know and love. It was expanding their horizons by embracing new things, exploring new places and being bold.
It’s been awhile now, and I can say with great certainty that we are all happier for it.
All this said, it’s not about abandoning the familiar things we love, but making room for more. It’s about blending new experiences with the ones we expect to enjoy. And in the kitchen, it’s about mixing the old with new.
And that’s what this dish is for me. It’s an old idea — sausage and peppers, which is something I fondly remember my grandmother making when I was a child — recreated in a lightened-up new way. Links of sweet Italian sausage have been replaced with a loose sausage (and slightly less of it). Lots of sauteed peppers are mixed with the sausage and long ruffled pasta (which wasn’t part of my childhood version) in a baking dish. Then a sauce is stirred together and poured over. While the dish roasts, the flavors of the sauce and the dish as a whole mix, mingle and come together. Top it with parmesan just before serving, if you wish — or skip the cheese. This time, it doesn’t need it.
- ½ lb loose sweet Italian sausage
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups sliced bell peppers
- ½ lb Mafaldine pasta, or similar long pasta, prepared
- 1 28.8-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large skillet, brown the sausage, breaking it apart as it cooks. Drain and transfer to an oval oven-safe baking dish.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the sliced bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned in spots -- about 10-12 minutes. Add to the baking dish. Add the prepared pasta and toss well to combine.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the crushed tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Pour over the pasta mixture.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until hot and bubbly. Serve immediately.